Springtime. And our thoughts turn to Augusta and lush green courses and a tradition unlike any other.
No not The Masters tournament — FootGolf.
1) What the heck is FootGolf? We ask Laura Balestrini, president of the California-based American FootGolf League. "FootGolf is a precision sport where players kick a soccer ball into a cup — in as few shots as possible."
2) Who invented it? People began playing in Europe around 2009, then it spread to South and North America. The American FootGolf League is the national organization with the most FootGolf courses – golf courses that allow FootGolfers to play — in the world. The best players, Laura says, are abroad.
3) How did you get involved? "Through a world sport's TV channel," Laura says. She and her husband, Roberto, saw some Argentinians playing FootGolf on TV. "None of them were running, just waiting for their turn — like the pace of golf," Laura says. "I noticed they were not wearing soccer cleats on the fairways. And there were big holes located yards away from the greens. Everything made sense to us. On top of that, those guys were having so much fun that we immediately fell in love with the concept and pictured ourselves doing the same with family and friends."
4) What is your best score? The beauty of FootGolf, Laura says, "is that it can be as fun or as competitive as you want. I play just for fun. I don't have a score or handicap, yet." The AGFL plans to introduce a national handicapping system in 2014.
5) What equipment do you need? A regulation FIFA #5 soccer ball. You can bring your own or rent one at the Pro-Shop, Laura says.
6) Are the rules pretty much the same as golf? Yes. The rules are similar.
7) What's with the argyle socks? "The FootGolf look is the result of combining practical considerations — such as freedom of movement and appropriate attire for being on a golf course — with the desire to embody the cheekiness of the sport," Laura says. "The Argyle on socks and uniforms is just a note of color. Don't you love it?"
8) How big is the FootGolf movement in America? "We are really focused on growing FootGolf to be known as a real sport," she says, "FootGolf is an instrument that can integrate the number one elite sport in the world --golf — with the number one popular sport in the world – soccer — and in order to do that, we have to inform and educate players from both sports."
10) How many golf courses are open for play? In the U.S., there are AFGL Accredited FootGolf courses in nearly half the states, she says, "and the phone doesn't stop ringing."
11) Does FootGolf tear up golf courses? No. "FootGolfers don't use soccer cleats," Laura says. And the FootGolf Cups — target holes that are 21 inches in diameter --are located many feet away from the greens.
12) Who makes better FootGolfers – soccer players or golfers? "Golfers with experience in soccer are the best fit," Says Laura. "Many soccer players are very good but, they are used to running, passing or kicking the ball on a flat surface. They don't know how to read the course and usually they don't pay too much attention to the contour of the terrain, at least at the beginning. They are better on long drives and possibly on the approach, but golfers with a notion of soccer take the time on the putting, using their legs as Godgiven putters."
13) Do people in other countries play FootGolf? It is an International Sport, Laura says, that is played in more than 20 some countries. The first ever FootGolf World Cup was held in Budapest, Hungary in 2012.
14) Who is the best FootGolfer in America at the moment? Probably Javier Barrionuevo or Bryan Byrne, Laura says. Both FootGolfers are from California.
15) FootGolf is to a golf course as snowboarding is to a ski slope. Fair? "You won't find a better analogy." she says.
16) What is the biggest obstacle to FootGolf's success? "I really don't see one," she says.
17) Is it better to be right-footed or left-footed to play most courses? "Great question," Laura says. "Just 10% of the players are left-footed. Go figure."
18) Do FootGolfers lose soccer balls in the woods? Not so much in the woods, she says. "Sometimes they have to retrieve the balls from the trees or wait until the ball comes back to the shore when it's in the water — there are water hazards just like in golf."
19) Do FootGolfers yell "Fore"? "Nope, they yell 'Gooooallll'!"
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj